The COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound effect on our education system. Schools are closing across the country, learning is being moved online, and educators are scrambling to adapt their curriculum and learn new strategies for teaching students from a distance. In schools that remain open, teachers are coping with heightened stress levels from students, families, and colleagues.
These unprecedented challenges only add to the pressure that teachers face every day. And even though educators are geared to put others’ needs first, teacher retention experts say there has never been a more critical time for teachers to make their own well-being a priority.
“It is essential to provide teachers with self-care strategies that improve their overall well-being, which will also positively impact their students,” said Dr. Kisha Walker, an administrator in Walden University’s Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership. Walden is an accredited university that offers an online MS in Education (MSEd), Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT), and other bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs online for educators.
Many school districts across the country focus heavily on attracting and hiring teachers. But that’s just part of the equation, Dr. Walker says. Now more than ever, schools should also be thinking about teacher retention and encouraging teachers to put strategies in place that can keep them healthy and energized for teaching in the classroom.
At a time when teachers are facing the challenges of the impact of COVID-19—not just in their classrooms but in their daily lives—it is important that they have the tools needed to support their mental, emotional, and physical wellness.
Dr. Walker recommends setting aside 10–15 minutes every morning and/or afternoon for mindfulness meditation, a practice that involves breathing exercises, mental imagery, body and mind awareness, and relaxation. You can also use the strategy throughout the day as needed: between teaching different subjects, during transitions, or at times students (or you!) become stressed or frustrated.
“Mindfulness can be used any time we need to refocus our attention or reset our thoughts, which will restore the balance and assist us in handling the situation at hand,” Dr. Walker says.
The technique can help reduce your stress and burnout, improve your teaching practices, improve your relationship with students, colleagues and parents, and support your overall well-being.
Practicing mindfulness can also benefit your students. The strategy has been shown to increase student focus and attention and improve academic performance.1
“As we embrace the idea of creating space within our heads—a calm body and mind—we teach our students to do the same thing, and instead of that flight or fight response, they may choose a more appropriate response given the situation,” Dr. Walker says.
A good work-life balance is essential to staying healthy, focused, and stress free. But COVID-19 requires teachers lead the way in adapting to a new “normal” at home and in their virtual classroom.
“Teachers should imagine what a work-life balance would look like. What would it feel like? What would you prioritize? What activities or events would you implement that bring you joy?” Dr. Walker says. “Teachers must give themselves permission to take a break and be happy. The relationship you have with yourself is the most important. When we have a healthy relationship with ourselves, our relationships with others are also healthy, in and outside the classroom.”
To achieve that balance between personal life and a teaching career, Dr. Walker suggests these strategies:
Collaborate. Build collaborative relationships at work to support not only your academic and professional needs but also your emotional and personal needs.
“You and your teaching partner or other colleague can support each other in creating and maintaining that work-life balance,” Dr. Walker says.
Give Yourself a Break. “One thing that is hard to do as a teacher is to accept the fact that it will have to be good enough,” says Dr. Walker. “We tend to strive for perfection, but we must learn to train ourselves to just stop and give ourselves a break on all levels.”
Disconnect. As a teacher, your job is never done. But it’s important to practice disconnecting from work after work hours are over, Dr. Walker says.
“We teachers have a bad habit of filling our bags with lesson plans to complete, papers to grade, IEPs to write, and instead of having that downtime, we continue our work, which in turn takes away from family, ourselves, and relaxation.”
Adopt healthy habits. Commit to do something good for your body every day—whether it’s yoga, stretching, or meditation. Fuel yourself with healthy foods and snacks. Get plenty of sleep, and rest so your body can rejuvenate and refresh.
If you want more strategies for enhancing your teaching career, consider furthering your education with a master’s degree. At Walden, you can earn a master’s in education online and fit in courses needed for your degree around your busy teaching schedule.
By earning an MSEd degree, you can learn new teaching strategies and gain the expertise needed to shape the next generation—and the next step in your career.
Dr. Kisha Walker has been with Walden University since 2009 and is the academic coordinator of the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program with a specialization in Special Education. Dr. Walker also serves as a doctoral committee member, a university supervisor, course writer, an editor for the Journal of Educational Research and Practice, a facilitator, and council member for several committees. Dr. Walker was awarded the Faculty Excellence Award July 2018 for The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership. She has written articles, presented webinars, and led professional development in Baltimore City public schools on the topic of teacher well-being.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Education and other bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral education degree programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, online format that fits your busy life.
Walden offers both state-approved educator licensure programs as well as programs and courses that do not lead to licensure or endorsements. Prospective students must review their state licensure requirements prior to enrolling. For more information, please refer to www.WaldenU.edu/educlicensure.